This post is about “월세,” not “전세.” So, “deposit” refers to “월세 보증금.”
I. How to Protect Your Tenancy via Resident Registration (주민등록)
Once you receive the keys to your new place, visit your community service center (주민센터) and complete the “resident registration” (주민등록) process. From the following day, you’ll be able to assert your tenancy against any 3rd party (e.g., a new landlord). This is because all 3rd parties are deemed to be on record notice (starting from the following day). FYI: For foreigners, this “resident registration” process can be substituted by “reporting a change in one’s place of sojourn” (체류지변경신고) as required under the Immigration Control Act (출입국관리법).
II. How to Protect Your Deposit via Confirmation Date (확정일자)
Once you’ve done the above, you can also try to safeguard your deposit, if any, via obtaining a “confirmation date” (확정일자) on your lease agreement document. You can do this also at your community service center. Obtaining a “confirmation date” will allow you to recover all or part of your deposit in the event of a foreclosure. I say “all or part” because there might have been preexisting liens/mortgages. (It’s important to check beforehand for any encumbrances!) But do not worry too much. If your deposit is not too large, the law specifically ensures that your money is recovered first (even when there were preexisting mortagees or lienholders.) In Seoul, for instance, tenants with a deposit of 100 mil won or smaller can recover up to 34 mil won.
III. File for a Leasehold Registration Order (임차권등기명령)
If your landlord refuses to refund your deposit (upon termination) but you want to move out: file for a leasehold registration order (at your district court). This will allow you to retain all aforementioned rights!
FYI, you can download a standard residential lease agreement here.
Power Tidbit: In Korea, a residential tenant may assert his/her fixed-term tenancy as being “for 2 years” even when the agreement says “for 1 year.” (This is so even when the tenancy is/was renewed automatically!)
Btw, most of the info I wrote about today is from the Housing Lease Protection Act (주택임대차보호법) and its enforcement decree. Note: These laws apply only to residential lease agreements. A different law applies to non-residential (i.e., commercial) lease agreements. Thanks!